Born in Rome on November 2, 1938, Tano Festa obtained a diploma in Artistic Photography in 1957. Together with Mario Schifano, Franco Angeli, Renato Mambor, Sergio Lombardo, Giosetta Fioroni, Cesare Tacchi, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Ceroli, and Umberto Bignardi, he gave life to what Cesare Vivaldi would define in 1963 in the columns of Il Verri as the Giovane Scuola di Roma (“Young School of Rome”), which would provide the capital with a bountiful crop of artists.
Tano Festa’s first documented exhibition was in 1958, when he participated in the Mostra di Pittura for the Premio Cinecittà, organized by the Italian Communist Party. In 1959, Tano Festa’s works arrived at Gian Tomaso Liverani’s La Salita Gallery, which at the time was one of the most important ports of call for contemporary art.
In his early works, Tano Festa displays a closeness to and particular interest in European and American abstract surrealism. The year 1960 was to represent a turning point for the artist, who produced his first monochrome paintings, which would later become a connotating element of his. Festa thus entered the vein of anti-representational, aniconic and monochrome painting. As early as 1961, the artist experienced a new artistic and stylistic evolution: while at first his monochrome paintings were marked out with paper, now there were wooden strips on the canvas, arranged vertically and at regular intervals. The use of industrial paints and wooden laths obscured and hid every emotional aspect of the author’s work, making it distinctly objectified. Surrealist components also continue to be found in these works, such as the arrhythmia in the subdivision of spaces, which deliberately provokes a sense of estrangement in the viewer. These are the works that, in 1961, Tano Festa presented at his first solo show at the La Salita Gallery. It was precisely 1961 that represented a turning point in the artist’s career, for after participating in the XII Premio Lissone, he was invited more frequently to exhibitions, reflecting the critics’ interest in and appreciation of his works.
From an artistic point of view, 1962 was also a key year, during which objects made their entrance into Tano Festa’s repertoire: windows, doors, cabinets and everyday objects that were, however, produced by a carpenter on the basis of a precise design provided by the artist himself. In May of the same year, La Finestra Rossa e Nera (“The Red and Black Window”), which would become one of the artist’s iconic works, was exhibited for the first time at Plinio De Martiis’s La Tartaruga Gallery. Also in 1962, Tano Festa spent some time in Paris after winning a scholarship from the Ministry of Education and, upon returning to Italy, participated in the exhibition Nuove prospettive della pittura italiana and then in the VII Premio Termoli, where he won Third Prize of the Provincial Administration with the work Stanza rossa (“Red Room”).
In 1963, we may witness a new evolution in the works of Tano Festa, when he inserted his first inscriptions inside furniture frames. During the same year the artist also offered his first paintings with quotations and references to artists of the past, showing a particular interest in Michelangelo over the years: indeed, the first reference to the Renaissance artist is found in the work Particolare della Sistina dedicato a mio fratello Lo Savio (“Detail of the Sistine Chapel dedicated to my brother Lo Savio”) while his two versions of The Creation of Man are perhaps among the most iconic works.
Tano Festa’s first trip to New York, one of the most sought-after destinations for artists at the time, dates back to 1965. However, letters sent by Festa to his friend Giorgio Franchetti also reveal the artist’s difficulty in asserting the artistic identity he had managed to piece together in Rome. Faced with the skepticism and detachment of the American market, Tano Festa continued to work on his own style, beginning to experiment with the technique of hand tracing of projected images or their reproduction on tissue paper. Also in New York, the blue sky with clouds, particularly dear to Tano Festa from 1963 onwards, evolved into a series of works with names such as Cielo meccanico, Cielo newyorkese and Grande nuvola. Stylistically, Tano Festa’s sky became ever more dynamic and detailed. In 1965, Tano Festa was invited to participate in the IX Quadriennale d’Arte in Rome, where he would also exhibit at the 10th and 11th Quadriennale (1986).
The early 1970s witnessed a new technical and stylistic evolution in the artist, converging on painting. His subjects were images taken from the past, projected onto the canvas yet fragmented to the point of almost losing all reference to the work of origin. A new evolution would occur over the final decade of the artist’s life, focusing on acrylic painting and especially portraits, faces of friends or characters from famous literary works, such as Don Quixote. Although these paintings may be considered figurative, they are by no means naturalistic works.
Tano Festa died in Rome on January 9, 1988, at the age of 49. In March, the City of Rome paid tribute to the artist by hosting an anthological exhibition in the premises of the former Peroni factory. The anthological exhibition on the occasion of the 45th Venice Biennale dates back to 1993, at which Tano Festa’s works and those of his brother Francesco Lo Savio were both exhibited.
Tano Festa, the Italian artist closest to Pop Art
A brilliant and eclectic artist with a decidedly varied working process, Tano Festa is regarded as the Italian artist closest to Pop Art, and has been referred to as an exponent of Italian Pop Art. Festa himself, during his travels to the United States, had the opportunity to explore the difference between the Italian and American contexts, and saw himself as more akin to what we might call New Italian Pop Art. The works with reference to Michelangelo, such as the series dedicated to the Sistine Chapel, have the great merit of bringing the art of the past into contact with a modern reinterpretation of the great classics.
Despite his decidedly vast production, Tano Festa’s artistic activity presents series of works on the same theme, which somehow identify Tano’s art and his communicative intent.
After an initial phase, which we may contextualize at the end of the 1950s, during which the artist shows a closeness to surrealism, in the early 1960s we find the first monochrome paintings with a wide use of the color red: one reminiscent of the color of blood.
In 1962, for the first time we find objects that are designed by the artist and made to be produced by a carpenter. These include furniture, such as windows, doors and cabinets. The characteristic feature of these objects is that they are bereft of handles and hinges, and hence of any practical functionality, thereby turning into art objects in their own right.
In the early 1960s, Tano Festa produced his first works in which he cited the great masterpieces of the past with the aim of presenting and proposing a new popular Italian art to the general public, of which he would become one of the leading exponents.